- Mulayam Singh Yadav is contesting from family stronghold Mainpuri
- Mulayam Singh and Mayawati fell out after their coalition crashed in 1995
- Mulayam Singh cited health reasons to skip 3 joint rallies held earlier
Uttar Pradesh's legendary rivals Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav came together on one stage on Friday more than two decades after their bitter falling out. The rare sight was followed by the even more unusual occurrence of Mayawati, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief canvassing for Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose party workers had manhandled her 24 years ago in the notorious "Guest House" incident.
Referring to that incident, she sought to explain again today, why. "Mulayam Singhji is not a fake backward leader like the prime minister," she said.
"Sometimes looking at the country's future you have to take a difficult decision in the larger interest... Mulayam Singh Yadav ji has changed over the years... he has done a lot to ensure people, especially women get their due share during the Samajwadi Party's rule."
The reunion is loaded with political messaging in the middle of the national election, in which opposition parties are trying to stop the BJP from retaining power.
With more than two decades of animosity behind them, Mulayam Singh and Mayawati were all smiles as they sat together and took turns to praise each other. Mulayam Singh was seen introducing her to workers and asking them to touch her feet. "We welcome Mayawati ji, I have always respected Mayawatiji," Mulayam Singh told a sea of crimson Samajwadi caps that roared its approval.
The spectacle of the bitter enemies sharing the stage is really the essence of the opposition gathbandhan (alliance) in Uttar Pradesh to take on the BJP in the national election.
Mulayam Singh, the father of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, is contesting the election from Mainpuri, a family stronghold. It is a safe seat for the Samajwadi patriarch, so getting Mayawati to address a rally here was high on optics.
The effort from both parties is to showcase their friendship and ensure the smooth transfer of votes wherever the gathbandhan has fielded joint candidates.
Mulayam Singh and Mayawati fell out after their ruling coalition in UP crashed in 1995, two years after they came together along with smaller parties to keep the BJP out of power. As Mayawati decided to pull out support and join hands with the BJP, Samajwadi Party workers barged into a state guest house where the BSP chief was camping with her supporters and roughed her up.
After Akhilesh Yadav took over as Samajwadi Chief, he reached out to Mayawati - the pair is now popular as the bua-babua (aunt-nephew) - and attempted a do over. Last year, the two parties successfully collaborated to win by-polls in BJP strongholds like Kairana, Gorakhpur and Phulpur.
Mulayam Singh firmly signaled, especially to old timers wary about the alliance, that he has put the interests of his son as top priority by sharing the stage with Mayawati and praising her. Akhilesh Yadav is fighting a make or break election and his future depends on a good showing in the polls.
Such acrimonious history was not easy to set aside. Mulayam Singh had cited health issues to skip three joint rallies held earlier in Deoband, Badaun and Agra.
As recent as in February, Mulayam Singh had, in a party meet, openly criticized his son's decision to tie up with Mayawati. "Who is finishing the party? Our own party people. It was such a strong party. We formed government on our own three times. All three times I was chief minister, I was also defense minister," Mulayam Singh, 79, questioning why his son ceded "half" the seats in Uttar Pradesh to Mayawati's party.
The BJP often refers to the 1995 guest house incident to diss the tie-up as impractical and opportunistic.
Mulayam Singh had surprised many earlier this year when he controversially wished Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second term. While his comments was received with loud cheers and desk-thumping by members of the ruling BJP - including a chuckling PM Modi -- it left those in his party scrambling for excuses.